Is Time the Real Currency of Customer Support?


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Anyone who has worked in or managed a customer service organization will quickly realize that almost all operational metrics collected include some form of “time” component.

First call resolution, call hold time, and time to first contact, are just a few examples of the many time based metrics.  When you think about it, the whole premise of customer service is based on time: we have SLAs that force us to respond within a certain amount of time regardless of the customer’s wishes, and we measure how quickly we write a knowledge document following the identification of a solution to a customer issue.

Combine this with our self-induced time pressures with today’s fast-paced society, and we get expectations for immediate responses to requests. This puts a tremendous amount of strain on customer support organizations. Add to this, the fact that information is doubling every year, and the number of repositories to try to manage this data continues to proliferate, the world of customer support becomes a chaotic place. IT is not impressed either.

So if everything related to the delivery of good customer support is related to time, then it is fair to suggest that time is the currency of customer support.

A common fallacy is that great customer support is simply a matter of doing things faster – picking up the phone faster, solving problems faster, and delivering knowledge to the knowledgebase faster. If that was all it took to deliver better customer support, everyone would be doing it and customer support would be universally great.

In reality, efficiency and effectiveness are at opposite ends of the spectrum. If you simply increase your speed you will likely degrade your effectiveness. The opposite is also true; if you focus on becoming more effective, you are likely to slow down your process. Therefore when you are looking for ways to improve your organization’s performance, you need to look at both ends of the spectrum at the same time.

At Coveo we believe that the speed of accessing information via a unified index, combined with the accuracy of the correlated and consolidated information, gives users the unique ability to influence both efficiency and effectiveness simultaneously.

Imagine being the person who spearheaded a project that delivered a whopping 67% improvement in efficiency of finding solutions to customer issues, and reduced the number of issues logged to R&D by 50% — in just three months. You can watch a short video on the IBM Netezza story here. How would efficiency improvements like this impact your business?

Stay tuned for my next blog where I will talk about the ROI of saving TIME.

Republished with author’s permission from original post

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ed Shepherdson
Ed Shepherdson serves as Coveo's Senior Vice President of Enterprise Solutions. He brings 30 years of experience in the technology industry to this role. Prior to joining Coveo, he spent 18 years at Cognos, now an IBM company, where he most recently served as Vice President of Global Customer Support.


  1. Good stuff, Ed.

    I would say that first-call resolution (FCR) is more of a qualitative metric than a time-based quantitative one. I rank it right up there with C-Sat and Contact Quality as a customer-centric measure. (That being said FCR CAN occur without quality — resolved issues aren’t always smooth calls).

    I have seen (first-hand) contact centers focus on FCR and STILL keep average handle time (AHT) in check, even reduce it. (Due to fewer angry customers calling back and launching into diatribes, as well as more attentive agents who don’t feel the pressure to meet rigid AHT requirements.)

    Like the perspective you bring!


    Greg Levin

  2. Thanks for your post. I agree most of the metrics in contact centers are time-based like Average Handling Time, Service Level etc as a survey of us (TOTE-M) shows in The Netherlands among inhouse and outsourced customer service (Performance CustomercInteractions 2011, to be released 17 March).
    However I disagree on FCR, that is a very good measure of effectiveness that correlates highly with NPS and/ or Customer Effort Score.
    I agree with that just in time information and knowledge is necessary to improve both FCR and, with feedback loop installed, First Time Right, no failures.
    With a unfied desktop (an anterprise portal covering all channels including social media and supporting self service for customers) and knowledge management, you empower employees (and customers), increase their experience, AND are able to measure FCR better in the proper way (end-to-end) AND you become more efficient. You have to abandon AHT – using it only for forecasting & scheduling – and that is something that requires boldness. But it is the onky way to deliver outstanding customer service and become a value center. We have dozens of cases proving this is the path to go.

  3. Hi Greg, thanks for the kind words.

    I agree with your assessment on FCR being more quantitative than time based, on the AHT I think the time portion of this often gets pushed to meet through put results which can affect the FCR quality as you mentioned earlier. I think what you are pointing out is that time can be an active or passive ingredient in many of the metrics we use to run our support today.

    What would you say are the top three metrics that an active time ingredient causes undue quality issues for the sake of hitting the time?



  4. AnnemiekvMoorst,

    Thanks for your comments, similar to a comment posted by Greg Levin, FCR is very much a quantitative metric which I agreed with, however given enough time you can increase your FCR with great quality. However I have seen that time pressures have been put on agents to reduce the amount of time spent with a customer on first contact because the case queue is getting full. One of two things happen in this case, FCR drops and it goes into backlog, or FCR increases and case closure quality goes down.

    Great access to the right knowledge in a timely fashion can help FCR rates go up with associated good quality – which is great – the time portion is now been transfered from the FCR to access to knowledge. Who measures this – how quickly do agents get to the right knowledge?

  5. Access should be immediately and time it takes can be measured by the technology used, also to improve findability (feedback should be used to improve). But when you design this interface together with employees, unlock all the relevant systems data and install a sustainable knowledge management process across all silos, this will work. Provided the time element is left out (I agree with you that pressure on time must be left out; so that is a decision to take). First AHT will rise a bit but after a while, providing the right answers is faster then talking around problems. If you master this as an organization you are ready for adding even more quality around First Contact Resolution.


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